Jokgu experiences spike in foot fetishistsKim Hyeon-gu, a 28-year-old office worker in Seoul, has something to look forward to this weekend: He’s going to play jokgu, a modified version of volleyball played mainly with the feet. A ball, a net and some flat ground are all that are needed.
Mr. Kim said he kicks the ball with everything he’s got to try and wash away his stress.
“I enjoyed jokgu in the army, but I almost forgot about it after that,” Mr. Kim said. “By accident, I came across a jokgu club in my neighborhood.” The club welcomed him, and now Mr. Kim squeezes a game in just about every weekend.
When he started, Mr. Kim concentrated on just getting the ball over the net. But these days, he plays at the most competitive level, generating some quality volleys, tosses and spikes.
Although jokgu isn’t as big as other sports, that doesn’t detract from its fun and challenge. Just like volleyball or soccer, jokgu calls for quick reflexes and ball-handling finesse. So it’s no wonder there are an estimated 7 million jokgu fans across the country.
With such a large number of players, Korea now boasts many competitions as well as star players. “Every jokgu player knows Kim Hyeon-u, with the Geumsan Jokgu Association,” Mr. Kim said.
Yun Seung-mi, a 42-year-old housewife, has been playing jokgu at a park in eastern Seoul’s Dongdaemun district three times a week for the past year. Looking for an athletic pastime three years ago, she joined a neighborhood soccer team, “but I often got injured and felt I wasn’t up to it,” Ms. Yun said. Then one day, she saw some men playing jokgu and became interested.
“I began playing with other housewives in my neighborhood,” she said. Nowadays, she teams up against her son, a middle school student, from time to time.
The game has gotten so popular that Hansei University in Gyeonggi province started offering incentives to applicants who have won prizes at national jokgu competitions. Some people are even calling it the nation’s “second sport,” after taekwondo. For its part, the Korea Jokgu Association calls it “the sport of the Korean people” based on the belief that it is the only ball game created in Korea.
Although some historians say a game resembling jokgu was played during the Three States period, which lasted from the fourth to the seventh century, jokgu in its present form was invented 38 years ago by Korean Air Force officials, so their pilots could play in uniform while on standby for a flight, the association said.
Officers who devised the rules received an award for their efforts, and the game later spread to other military divisions before expanding to the public at large. At that time, soldiers played on a lowered volleyball net. The jokgu association began standardizing rules after being established in 1995, the same year of the first official competition.
Getting on your feet:
The playing area measures 16 meters (53 feet) by 7 meters, and the net stands 1.1-meter high. Each of two teams has four starting players and three relievers. A game consists of three sets of 15 points each. Score is counted under the rally point system, under which one must have a two-point advantage to win a game and there are no caps on the final score. Point winners have the right to serve. Serving a rebounding ball is against the rules. A point from a serve earns two points. Receivers are allowed up to three bounds and three touches. Only one’s head and shins can touch the ball. The ball for jokgu measures 20 centimeters (7.9 inches) in diameter and weighs 360 grams (0.79 pound).
Regional Jokgu Associations
Korea Jokgu Association (02) 2202-5526
Seoul (02) 412-6322, (011) 446-4795
Busan (016) 834-8867
Daegu (016) 515-0576
Incheon (011) 9711-9452
Gwangju (019) 605-7640
Daejeon (010) 7417-7117
Ulsan (016) 9295-4669
Gyeonggi province (016) 311-6677
Gangwon province (011) 9732-8074
North Chungcheong province (016) 787-9312
South Chungcheong province (011) 432-8830
North Jeolla province (011) 684-4141
South Jeolla province (011) 663-6945
South Gyeongsang province (016) 558-4567
Jeju island (019) 652-2353
by Chang Hye-soo